Ah, the AKG 414. There are so many iterations of this mic. Every studio worth its salt has at least one, and if they’re on their game, they own several. We see them often used as drum overheads, room mics, on acoustic guitars, and percussion. However, I have placed them on all sorts of sources – such as vocals, piano, and strings – with good results.

I am fortunate enough to have a precursor to the 414, the AKG C12A, released in 1962, right before they stopped making the famous C12. It uses a nuvistor tube and, other than the brass capsule, shares little else in common with the C12. With the C12A and B, AKG introduced the trapezoid-shaped body style that is still in use today on the C414.

It is not really a fair comparison to put the two mics up against each other, but they do share a lineage, so I thought it's worth mentioning since AKG mentions the tone characteristics of their new C414 XLII as being similar to that of a C12. So, what are those notable characteristics? Beautiful, open, smooth top end, great on all sorts of sources, but really well-suited for vocals.

The C414 XLII is the latest iteration (it’s been available for a while) of the original 414. I maybe-sort-of expected this mic to be good, but not fantastic. AKG had been sold to Harman, and I thought perhaps the quality I expected would not be there. I was wrong. Everything about this mic says quality; well machined, heavy in the hand, good sturdy connections, an included flight case, shock mount, and windscreen. For all intents and purposes, this mic is the same as its predecessor, the C414, but has some notable improvements.

The C414 XLII multi-pattern condenser microphone offers a choice of nine polar patterns: omni, cardioid, wide cardioid, hypercardioid, and figure-eight ­– each with a stop in the middle that provides a total of nine positions. The quoted frequency response is 20 to 20,000 Hz. The mic also sports a pre-attenuation pad with selections of flat, -6, -12, and -18 dB. Plus, a selection switch for high pass filtering of flat, 160, 80, or 40 Hz. It also has a small LED right on the body of the mic that indicates pattern selection and cases of clipping.

I put the C414 XLII through its paces on a multi-day session with singer and bandmate Jeff Taylor. Jeff has an insane vocal range and can do things with his voice that most singers only dream of. He is honestly the closest thing to Mike Patton [Tape Op #53] I have ever heard (in terms of range and versatility). I have used my C12A occasionally for vocals, but it is not my first choice, and neither was going for the C414 XLII. I decided to try it out on a shaker or acoustic guitar, expecting it to shine just like the 414s I’d used previously. I have a personal stash of other mics that I love for vocals, and assumed I'd end up choosing one of those after some auditioning. For many of the tracks, vocals were done with a Shure SM7B [Tape Op #36] through a Daking Mic-Pre IV [#45], but I gave the C414 XLII a try with the same preamp. Other than adjusting levels, that was the extent of the tweaking. In short, it sounded perfect. It captured the full body of Jeff’s vocals, with a lovely presence and air without an overhyped high end. So, for three songs with fairly elaborate vocal arrangements, the C414 XLII was the sole microphone used. It just worked! When it came time to dial in some rough mixes of the sessions, vocals were a snap to get into place – just a touch of compression was used to assist in sitting the vocal correctly within the mix. Much in the same way that recording a super-talented drummer with well-tuned drums is easy work, having a great singer with fantastic mic technique makes the job a little easier too, and I loved the way the C414 XLII helped us achieve our end goal quickly. I set up the mic, and that was the last I thought about it. That is high praise. Would I use this mic again on vocals? Absolutely.

Later in the song recording process, it occurred to me that the acoustic guitar tracks needed to be re-tracked. Without fail, I always go straight to the Schoeps CMC 6 for acoustic guitars. I was describing the Schoeps to musician Neal Francis as sounding like clarified butter; rich and buttery but clear (I stand by that)! I also use Earthworks mics a lot for acoustic sources. However, the C414 XLII was up on the stand, so I simply lowered the boom and sat down in front of it with a Gibson Dove acoustic. Still in cardioid and pointed at the twelfth fret with the AKG’s high pass set at 80 Hz, the mic captured the nicely rich, smooth tone of the guitar with no fussing around. With a little more low end roll-off, and some EQ tweaks at the mix phase (to help the track sit well in a semi-dense mix), we were done.

In my spare time, I used the C414 XLII paired with a few different preamps on upright bass, a variety of percussion sources, such as frame drums, a snare drum for some samples, and a cymbal overdub. Across the board it performed well, with good low-frequency extension for the bass and frame drums, and nice detail for the clicky-clacky, shaky, and chime-y components without sounding harsh – all nice and clear.

The C414 XLII comes with an illustrated guide for mic’ing a bunch of different instrument types, which I thought was a little funny, but would be extremely useful for a novice recording engineer who had purchased their first professional mic. This mic would be a good first choice for someone with a little extra money that needs a “do it all” utility microphone (there probably isn’t really one, by the way).

One gripe: The proprietary shock mount, while perfectly functional – and I had zero problems with it – felt a little light and plastic-y. I’m not sure how it will hold up over time. On the other hand, the included aluminum travel case was not overbuilt. It’s perfectly suitable, and seemed way better than the cardboard boxes many (even much higher priced) mics come in.

Without a doubt, I would use the C414 XLII regularly during sessions. It’s solidly built, and I consider it a very useful studio workhorse based on my time with it. But don’t just look at the 414 as simply a utility mic that sounds good on every source (though it certainly serves well in that capacity); it shines where it counts.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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